Author Archives: Sarah Varney

Why Isn’t Kaiser Less Expensive?

(tedeytan: Flickr)

(tedeytan: Flickr)

The federal health law aims to tackle the problem of high health care costs by providing financial rewards to providers who do a better job coordinating patient care. But one shining example of that future has been here in California for decades. It’s Kaiser Permanente which is often touted as the nation’s best hope for bringing health care costs more in line with other developed nations.

Kaiser rose out of a utopian, industrialist dream. During the 1930s and 40s, Henry J. Kaiser wanted to make sure the workers at his Richmond shipyard were steady and strong.

George Halvorson, Kaiser’s CEO, draws a direct link between Henry Kaiser’s approach to building ships and his approach to designing a health system. “When Henry built things he tended to assemble an entire team to build all the parts,” he says. “So when he started providing health care to his workers, he used that model which was to have a Kaiser hospital, Kaiser clinics.”

“They got to where they are, in part, by being the cost leader in the market. And they no longer are.”
Kaiser Permanente opened its doors to the public in 1945 — and offered health coverage that was considerably less expensive than conventional insurers like Blue Cross.

The strategy worked because it owned and operated its own hospitals and clinics and directly employed physicians. Continue reading

Opposition to the Federal Health Law: Tea Party, Republicans and … the Green Party

Green Party Backs A Single-Payer System

The Green Party opposes the federal health law, but for different reasons than you might think. (Mark Wilson: Getty Images)

The Green Party opposes the federal health law, because it doesn't go far enough. (Mark Wilson: Getty Images)

The platform of California’s third largest political party — the Green Party — includes legalizing marijuana, ending the death penalty and offering free, community bicycles. Now, add this to the Party’s list of solemn commitments:

“We’re hoping the individual mandate will be struck down,” says Barry Hermanson, the Green Party’s candidate for California’s 12th Congressional District. “It is extraordinary that now Congress is saying individuals must purchase a product from a private company. There’s no precedent for this.”

For Hermanson, and other Greens, being compelled to buy a product from an industry they find repugnant is a bit like a school requiring kids to hand over their lunch money to the playground bullies.

“I have no trust they have my best interest and the general populace interest in mind,” he said. Continue reading

Uninsured–and Still Against the Health Law

Libertarian Paul Ruffino, 55, has been looking for an insurance plan since leaving his previous job. Several insurance companies refuse to cover him because he has pre-existing conditions.

Libertarian Paul Ruffino, 55, has been looking for an insurance plan since leaving his previous job. Several insurance companies refuse to cover him because he has pre-existing conditions. (Photo: Sarah Varney)

Today marks the second anniversary of the federal health care law, and, unless you’ve been depriving yourself of news for the last several weeks, that same law will be front and center before the Supreme Court starting Monday. Here in California, uninsured Californians have a particular stake in the Court’s actions.

Madera County is a largely conservative and agricultural area where one in every three people lacks coverage. While many people say they want the Supreme Court to throw out the federal health law, I found that many there are struggling to reconcile their political views with the basic need for health insurance.

I started off in Oakhurst. Here, just a few miles from the entrance to Yosemite National Park, is the Sweetwater Steakhouse, a local watering hole where no one is shy about their opinions of President Obama’s signature initiative, including people like Joe Stern. “ObamaCare is absolutely horrible, horrible, horrible. It should struck down immediately.” Continue reading

Forget the Robots: Venture Capitalists Change Their Health Care Investments

Venture capitalists are spurning high-tech surgical robots like this for more practical health care investments. (Nick Dawson:Flickr).

It wasn’t that long ago that money flowed steadily to entrepreneurs who dreamt up whiz-bang medical devices. Hospitals souped up their surgical suites with robots or high-tech radiation machines for cancer treatment. Cost wasn’t an issue: They just got passed along to insurance companies, who passed them on to employers and patients.

But after the Great Recession hit and the 2010 health law passed, the financiers behind the medical arms race started to rethink their investment calculus.

“If you come in with [a device] that’s 10 percent better and twice as expensive, it’s hard to get anyone to care,” said Bryan Roberts, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based venture capitalist at Venrock, a Silicon Valley company that invests in firms working on health services, medical devices and drugs. Continue reading